Three ways to keep warm this winter

December 10th, 2012

Brrrrr…they weren’t wrong when they predicted a chilly one.

If you are feeling the cold, have poor circulation, are pregnant or trying for a baby – or just want to look after yourself this winter, here are three things you can do:

1. Wear a Haramaki
They have been used for hundreds of years in Japan to protect the vital organs – particularly the kidneys – from the cold. Warming the core helps to reduce period pain, improve digestion and enhance the circulation.  The kidneys give us energy and support fertility and pregnancy.

You can fashion one out of a scarf or strapless top but I think the best product on the market is the Kokoro Haramaki ( They are very slim – so invisible beneath your clothes, excellent quality soft cotton and keep their shape well. You can buy them online or FROM THIS WEEK from me direct – for a reduced price. Please let me know if you want to order one.

Top tip: These are particularly good if you are wearing a nice outfit over Christmas and want to be warm but not look bulky

2. Warm the Kidneys twice a day

A good Qi Gong exercise involves making two fists, popping them behind your back and rubbing the thumb/index finger end in a circular motion over the kidneys. This can be done through clothes and can be as fast as is comfortable. Do this every morning and evening in the wintertime.

3. Take your lunch hot!

We get so bombarded with the idea that salad is good for us but this isn’t necessarily true in the winter! Make warming soups, stews or warm rice salads your priority over the winter season. Use warming spices such as cumin, cinnamon and star anise. There are some great wide plastic flasks available that keep any meal warm. Just fill it with boiling water first and empty before putting your freshly cooked meal in. It will stay warm for a few hours.

Happy Wintertime everyone!



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Why we are obsessed with vampires

December 4th, 2012

I can’t pretend to be obsessed with blood-suckers myself, but even those of us who are fairly blind to popular culture cannot have escaped to notice how many vampires have been roaming our TVs and book shops. And because themes in literature are usually reflective of some sort of social malaise, I thought it would be fun to consider the modern vampire phenomenon through my Chinese Medicine lens.

 So here goes!

Vampires share a key characteristic with many people struggling to feel well today, something acupuncturists refer to as ‘blood deficiency’. In vampires this is symbolised by pale skin, being cold and being awake at night time – all things that might be experienced by humans suffering with a Chinese diagnosis of blood deficiency. Conversely, owing to their supernatural state, whilst vampires have superhuman strength and agility and heal quickly, blood deficient people can feel weak, tired, and clumsy – and might also be slow to heal.

When acupuncturists talk about blood deficiency they are talking about the quality of our blood being deficient – not necessarily a full blown western diagnoses of anaemia. Blood deficiency can result from an imbalance in one or more of the organs responsible for blood production and is very often the reason behind menstrual problems and fertility issues. It can also cause anxiety, depression, insomnia and poor memory. So, if any of these are affecting you, read on…

Blood deficiency is on the increase and I believe, is the blight of the modern world simply because modern living prevents us from producing good quality blood for our systems. This is not just because this quality is derived from diet – and the modern diet is full of toxins – but because most of us have lost the ability to inhabit our physical bodies at all – a sort of separation of mind and body if you like. It might well be this separation that resonates with us when we think about vampires  – except that we are still living!  

We spend so much of our time in our heads – which are often anywhere but the present moment; we might find it difficult to focus on one task at a time; many of us spend hours hunched over a desk. Have you ever stopped and noticed how your posture is affecting your breath? Most blood deficient patients who come to see me have no idea that their shoulders are raised up 4 inches higher than they should be, or that every tendon in their neck is in a state of tension. Only when we unify our physical being with our mental and emotional self can we become aware of these things and only by this process can we improve the quality of blood production – which happens at the physical level of the organs.

An interesting myth to have emerged in modern vampire fiction (Miller 1999) is the vampire’s reluctance to feed from the body of humans. For example, Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer lives off blood banks and Louis in Interview with the Vampire eats rats to avoid feeding from humans. What interests me even more is the theme running through all modern vampire literature of the potential for the quality of the human blood taken to have consequences for the vampire. If you have read any Anne Rice, you will know that her vampires die if they continue to drink once their victim’s heart has stopped beating. There is also a case elsewhere of vampires getting food poisoning from a victim with an illness.

This anxiety around feeding closely resembles life today. On a global level there are anxieties around how food is farmed and produced – as well as how much is available. On an individual level many of our meals are eaten on the run, when we are in ‘fight or flight’ mode – or whilst we are thinking (or worrying), or even doing something else. We will often have terrible posture when we eat. And because we are not fully engaged in the act of eating or breathing, our food is not transformed into nutrition for the blood – resulting in poor quality blood supply to our organ system.

This manic eating results in a vicious cycle whereby our body asks for more nutrition (mmmm….pudding) and we then eat too much in an attempt to enrich the blood – which in turn hampers blood production and quality even further! Any constitutional blood deficiency will be exacerbated by poor diet (in particular excessive sugar and caffeine consumption), eating when stressed, shock and trauma, eating too much and – this is the biggie: worry.

The best thing to do if you are blood deficient is to reduce stress as far as possible, improve your diet, relax before eating, stop eating before you are full and take up something like yoga or meditation (see recommendations below). These will give you time to rest, ground yourself, focus on the breath and inhabit your physical being. If you are blood deficient  you may already be attracted to this sort of therapy. Massage is also helpful. In time this will help you to be more grounded in your body and – with the right diet – blood production will improve.  You might also notice that because you are more mindful you can complete tasks, rather than getting distracted.

Try taking a few breaths now and focus on each part of your body in turn…you will be amazed at how many tense spots you find. Perhaps you are hunched in the back. This is an exercise you can do whenever, wherever…even if you are moving – it’s just about having an awareness of the physical body and what it is doing.

Look out for my upcoming blog on How to Eat – some more tips for those suffering with blood deficiency.

Thanks for reading.

Kate recommends:

Gareth and Chantel have been recommended to me by a patient. They teach Viniyoga and it’s quite a slow style with some flows and some static posture work.  Great for reducing stress and improving the blood. Go on, take a bite!

Mary teaches meditation techniques – both 1:1 and in group settings. If you would like to find space to relax, get in touch with Mary and she can give you more information on what is available.

Blog references

Miller, S (1999)
‘Nursery fears made flesh and sinew’
Vampires, the Body and Eating Disorders: A Psychoanalytic Approach
London: Royal College of Art

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Personal health budgets: how would you spend yours?

August 18th, 2011

Personal budgets are currently being piloted in the NHS. If these are implemented, they will put patients with long term conditions at the heart of funding decisions – allowing them to decide how best to take care of their own health needs. This could be very good news for patients of Traditional Acupuncture, who currently have to pay in order to receive this comprehensive form of Chinese Medicine. In a world where being disadvantaged materially puts you at greater risk of ill health, private holistic healthcare can only be contributing to society’s inequalities. Personal budgets could help to address this gap.

I see plenty of patients who would benefit from more regular treatment, but who cannot afford to attend. A recent poll by the British Acupuncture Council showed that Acupuncturists earned on average £15,000 per year. This is only after three years of expensive training and two more building a practice to profitability. Although many Acupuncturists would like to provide a services that is affordable for everyone – this simply isn’t possible. Providing a sliding scale, concessions and packages of care at a cheaper rate is often the best they can do.

Treatment itself may seem expensive when coming out of one’s own purse – although in real terms a diagnosis and course of four treatments (where five hours of time is completely dedicated  to the patient – one to one) costs less than one session in a hospital-based pain clinic. And herein lies another potential benefit to personal budgets – for it will make the real cost of healthcare more transparent and, I hope, put a greater onus on the people using health services to use them responsibly. Despite attempts to reduce the cost of DNAs (Did Not Attend) for example, these still cost the NHS upwards of £200 million per year. This is all money that could be better spent elsewhere.

Putting the purse strings in the hands of the patients will allow them to see that funding resources are limited – and that multiple demands compete for attention. It will also, to some extent, get round the tricky problem of prioritisation in the NHS, which has been dominated by the ubiquitous drug companies. Big Pharma can afford to conduct endless research to provide an evidence base and therefore justify a drug’s inclusion in the NHS’s list of priorities for funding. They are also very good at burying this research where it is unfavourable and therefore doesn’t suit their main end (which is to make money).

In reality, evidence based medicine (EBM) makes up a small proprotion of NHS spending. A doctor writing in the primary care rag The Pulse recently stated that only a small proportion of the medicine she provides is ‘evidenced based’. However, the NHS has to have some kind of system in place to regulate provision and what EBM provides, among other things, is grounds for refusing individual requests for funding (for Acupuncture for example) – even where patients have been having treatment and know it benefits them.

I should point out that I am not a holistic fundamentalist and beleive that western medicine is a system in its own right and a perfectly valid option that should be available. However, I also believe that ill health has multiple causes – often emotional or lifestyle based – and that people should have a choice as to how to address their health needs. Western medicine should not be the only choice available. Of course the previous government’s choice agenda had nothing much to do with patient choice – and everything to do with privitisation of the NHS. Perhaps personal budgets will provide ‘real’ choice to all, and allow the multiple causes of ill health to be addressed.

In my next blog I will be sharing my own experience of how the current NHS only allows me to deal with a health condition through the use of drugs which have multiple side effects. Whilst I have found a natural way of managing it which has no side effects – I cannot get help towards the cost. It provides an interesting case study and I hope provides support for initiatives like personal budgets…

I know how I would spend mine!

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